Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Managers and Supervisors Can be Sued Individually by Employees for FMLA Violations, Court Confirms

Congratulations!  You've been promoted to the supervisor level.  Now you might want to consider some additional training or an errors and omissions policy.  Yet another court reminds us, missteps in the Family Medical Leave act are costly for managers. This is from Legal Newsline:  
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that some employees may be held individually liable for employment claims brought under the Family and Medical Leave Act, taking a split from other federal employment laws.  
The case, Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, saw Cathleen Graziadio filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Culinary Institute of America, Shaynan Garrioch and Loreen Gardella for interference with FMLA leave, FMLA retaliation and associational discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. ... 
The defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims and, on March 20, 2015, the district court granted their motion in full, dismissing Graziadio’s FMLA claims against Garrioch and Gardella individually, finding that neither qualified as an “employer” subject to liability under the FMLA. 
So the defendant managers were off of the hook in this particular case, however, the court did go on to provide:
The court looks at least four factors when determining if a manager or supervisor can be individually liable for FMLA violations.
  • Whether the manager or supervisor had the power to hire and fire the employees;
  • Whether the manager or supervisor supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment;
  • Whether the manager or supervisor determined the rate and method of payment; and
  • Whether the manager or supervisor maintained employment records.
“This was a non-exhaustive list,” .... “But here the court found the manager met enough of the factors.”
An individual may be held liable under the FMLA only if he or she is an employer, which is defined as encompassing "any person who acts, directly or indirectly, in the interest of an employer to any of the employees of such employer.” ...
What exactly did the managers (and HR Manager) do in this case?  Here is how Seyfarth Shaw summarized it:
[T]he plaintiff took FMLA leave to care for her son, and then took additional leave a few weeks later when her second son broke his leg. During the plaintiff’s second term of absence, the employer took issue with the paperwork supporting the leave request, and refused to allow her to return until she provided new documentation. Communication between the plaintiff and the employer broke down, and ultimately the employer fired the plaintiff for abandoning her job. The plaintiff subsequently sued the employer and two of her supervisors alleging interference and retaliation under the FMLA, and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ...  
At the District Court, summary judgment was granted to the employer [and the managers in question]. The District Court found that the plaintiff could not establish that she was wrongfully denied FMLA leave, or that the employer’s actions were retaliatory or discriminatory. ...
In light of this startling Circuit Court opinion, employers may wish to consider the ramifications of this case as they analyze their organizational structure, chain-of-command, policy, procedures, and training systems. It’s one thing to deliberately decide as a business to subject lower level managers to individual employer liability, but something quite else for it to happen accidentally.